Tag Archives: Lida Calvert Obenchain

The Mothers Club

Every woman that is the Mother of one child or children, should get a pension, it does not make any difference who she is, a Mother is enough.  Soldiers draw a pension, why not a Mother? 

So declared Barren County native Virginia Edmunds in a 1915 letter to her sister.  Foretelling today’s proposals to enact a “Marshall Plan for Moms” struggling with work, childcare and healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic, she reminds us that over generations, Kentucky women have grappled with what most see as the greatest joy and the greatest challenge of their lives.  They have grumbled and protested, but they have also campaigned, organized, survived and even triumphed in the experience of motherhood.

Take Bowling Green native Lida Calvert Obenchain, married in 1885 and the mother of four children in ten years.  Though fiercely proud and protective of her brood, she despaired at the plight of the “tired, overworked housekeeper”—the all-in-one “cook, scullion, nurse, laundress, charwoman, dining room servant, and chambermaid” tasked with care of the “new baby that is laid in the cradle every two or three years.”  She became a convert to woman suffrage as a way to protect the interests of all such women, and cited with approval an idea of author and reformer Charlotte Perkins Gilman to establish cooperative kitchens to supply families with prepared food and other domestic assistance.  Like Virginia Edmunds, she called for tangible measures to back up the routine paeans her culture offered to motherhood.

Virginia, however, was quick to point out that she would have done it for free.  She had spent “the best part of this life in bringing up a family” and had “not a word to say against it, for it was my duty, and I took pleasure in it.”  On February 12, 1925, a group of Bowling Green women with the same approach organized the Mothers Club to enhance their experience of both the duties and the pleasures of raising children.  They adopted their club constitution with a view to “appreciating the advantages of friendship; believing in mental, spiritual and physical development; and recognizing the value of training our children for future citizens.”

Mothers Club yearbook, 1928-1929

Over its 73-year existence, the Mothers Club fulfilled its mission with programs, social activities, and civic uplift.  Its first year included programming on “Care of Children’s Teeth,” “Food for the Pre-School Child and School Lunches,” “Heredity and Environment,” “Music for Children,” and “Adapting Discipline to Individual Temperament.”  The club, recalled member Ruth Brown Denhardt, was “a very staid organization” when she joined in 1947.  Dressed in their hats, gloves and best dresses, members addressed each other as “Mrs.” and presented programs assigned to them by a committee, not chosen by themselves.  Children and husbands were guests at an annual picnic, and members also conducted a book exchange. 

As their children grew older and social conventions less formal, Mothers Club members turned increasingly to literary and educational pursuits at their meetings.  Through charter memberships and reunions, nevertheless, they maintained the bonds between those who had joined the club as harried young mothers and left it as grandmothers.  Like today, shared understandings in challenging times sustained them.  Harriet Downing, the wife of WKU President Dero Downing, joined the club in 1952 and valued the friendships she made as much as the “many valuable lessons on motherhood” she absorbed from the programs.

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections about mothers, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Education in the Archives

Green River Female College diploma

Green River Female College diploma

For October’s Kentucky Archives Month and its theme of “education,” the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections can boast of many collections documenting the work of teachers and schools in Kentucky.  We hold materials relating to WKU faculty such as Marjorie Clagett, Nelle Travelstead and Arndt Stickles, as well as distinguished educational administrators (and WKU alumni) like Chester Travelstead.  The classroom labors of many other teachers such as Erleen Joiner Rogers, Mary Woodrow Smith, Frances Hart and Dudley Whitmer are also represented in our collection.

We have previously blogged about several early schools in our area:  Cedar Bluff College, Franklin Female College, Smiths Grove College and St. Columba Academy.  A recent acquisition is an 1866 diploma from the Green River Female College of Bowling Green.  The diploma certifies Julia Woodburn Adams as a “Regular Graduate of the College,” having completed its course of study and “maintained during her connection with it a high moral character.”

Green River Female College, Bowling Green

Green River Female College, Bowling Green

Green River Female College was the child of Baptist minister Thomas H. Storts.  He initially held classes in a church basement, but after the Civil War he moved the school to a large house at 1253 State Street, where he and his small staff of teachers accepted both day and boarding students.  Unfortunately, Storts struggled financially and lost the school in 1877, only a year after receiving a formal charter of incorporation.  Then as now, education could be a costly endeavor for all involved.  Storts’s struggle to collect tuition (and the creativity of methods used to pay) was evident in the forbearance he gave the family of Lida, Mary, and Maggie Calvert, sisters who attended early in the 1870s.  Two years after they first enrolled, Storts had credited against his $308 account only $10 in cash and $28 worth of goods consisting of two counterpanes, two blankets and a set of silver spoons.  Before marrying and embarking on a career as a successful author, Lida Calvert went to work for Storts as a teacher in order to retire her younger sisters’ indebtedness.

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For more on schools, teachers and teaching, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A Global Village

The Pike, a mile-long stretch of carnival-style attractions at the St. Louis World's Fair.

The Pike, a mile-long stretch of carnival-style attractions at the St. Louis World’s Fair.

With its 1,200 acres of technology, art, shops, concessions, carnival amusements and exhibits from more than 60 countries, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known as the St. Louis World’s Fair, dazzled some 19 million visitors from April to December 1904.  Included in the crowds were members of the Obenchain family of Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Sixteen-year-old Margery Obenchain attended the Fair in August while visiting friends in St. Louis.  Then it was the turn of her mother, Lida Calvert Obenchain, and younger sister Cecilia.  On September 23, while 9-year-old “Cecil” and a cousin toured the massive Palace of Manufactures Building, a weary Lida sat on the steps and composed a letter to her sister Josephine.

Lida found two aspects of the extravaganza the most interesting: the flowers, which she termed “the glory of the fair,” and its international flavor.  The French pavilion was “so gorgeous and magnificent that we held our breath and talked in whispers.”  The Austrian and Italian pavilions were also full of “beautiful things.”  The Brazilian pavilion, by contrast, was just “coffee, nothing but coffee, with a few photographs thrown in.”  She also alluded to the Fair’s “living exhibits,” where exotic peoples from the Americas, the Far East, the Philippines and Africa demonstrated their native customs in a manner that tended to reinforce the onlooker’s prejudice about the superiority of Western, industrialized ways.  What were mere curiosities for Lida, however, were objects of scholarly interest for another visitor, her niece Jeannette Brown Obenchain, then studying anthropology at the University of Chicago.  Jeannette was “listening to lectures and hobnobbing with the savage races,” Lida reported.  “They treat her like a man and a brother and she thinks they are ‘perfectly lovely.’  Indians, Filipinos, Cliff Dwellers and all seem to recognize her as a kindred spirit.”

And Cecil?  True, she “went into raptures” over the lace displays at the Belgian pavilion, but was also busily accumulating a good deal of souvenir “plunder” and demanding popcorn, candy and “other trash” whenever they passed a concession booth.  No mention, however, of whether she sampled that confection now most famously associated with the Fair, the ice cream cone.

Lida’s letter from the St. Louis World’s Fair is part of the Calvert-Obenchain-Younglove Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For other collections relating to fairs and exhibitions, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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A Letter From “Out of the Woodwork”

Margery Obenchain letter, 1904

Margery Obenchain letter, 1904

Retired WKU chemistry professor Don Slocum recently discovered several pieces of paper in a clump behind the siding he pulled off his back porch during a renovation of his Chestnut Street home.  He assembled the torn and stained pieces and sent a photocopy to WKU’s Special Collections Library to see if we were interested in adding it to our manuscripts collection.  Indeed we were!  The pieces comprised a complete letter written in August 1904 to “Alice,” possibly a former occupant of the house, by 16-year-old Margery Obenchain.  Margery lived a few blocks away but was writing from Sulphur Springs, Missouri, near the end of a summer trip that had culminated in a visit to the St. Louis World’s Fair.  “I have had a most glorious time,” she declared.  During her visits to family and friends, she had enjoyed the company of several young men, one of whom she described as “one of the handsomest, most brilliant men I have ever met.”  Concluding that, “as a rule, Northern boys are an improvement on Southern boys,” Margery had nevertheless enjoyed all her summer socializing, and promised to tell Alice more when she returned home.  A finding aid and typescript of Margery’s letter can be downloaded here.

The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections has even more on Margery, the Obenchain family, and related families the Calverts and Youngloves.  Margery’s father, William A. Obenchain, was the longtime president of Ogden College and her mother, Lida Calvert Obenchain, was a dedicated woman suffragist and successful writer of fiction under the pen name “Eliza Calvert Hall.”  A finding aid for the Calvert-Obenchain-Younglove collection can be downloaded here.

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